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For the price I paid, the Carolina is a good boat to learn in. It is tippier than my wife's Prodigy, but I prefer the Carolina's smaller cockpit opening. If you can find one for a similar price, I'd recommend picking it up. The 24-25 inch width is wide enough to give beginners a secure feeling of initial stability, but it still encourages one to work on their mechanics.
My dealer replaced a 13.5 Carolina Airlite with this model (no rudder), when I had trouble with the airlite material on the previous boat. Though it is heavier and less responsive than the airlite, it is much more durable and grows on you. I have paddled it on Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and in numerous rivers.
I have since purchased a boat for more serious touring (along with a more serious investment) but before doing so, loaded with camping gear I kayaked around Grand Island in Lake Superior with my 14.5. with no problems. I also kayaked the chain of lakes on Drummond Island, MI and from there out to Harbor island with equal success.
I may replace it for a shorter river boat, but this past weekend on a river with many turns I found I was doing as well as some of the other paddlers in 8 and 10' boats. It's flat bottom makes easy to get over close to the surface logs and shallow areas without getting out of the boat, but the sharp bow and stern helps in maneuvering.
I would recommend this boat for beginners who want to get a taste of kayaking before they invest big money in the sport. I would give it a 9 out of 10 for this. A 9 as I haven't compared it to every boat out there.
I've had it out about once a week for day trips this spring – trying to learn how to paddle and getting into shape. I did replace the paddle that was sold with it with a Werner Camano very quickly.
The Carolina 14.5 fit my 6'1", 200lb. frame fine. Almost too much room. Am tempted to get some foam padding to for the hip and knee area to tighten up the fit so I can try more advanced maneuvers other than paddling in a straight line. It doesn't come with any.
The boat has very good initial stability. Haven't come close to tipping over while paddling which was reassuring as I learned how to kayak this spring and did not want to wet exit nor learn how to reenter the boat while the water was so cold. I live close to the Kentucky River, so have and will do most of my padding there and nearby on mostly flat water. Tracking is better than I expected. Maneuverability is less than I expected. Takes a good while to turn, but haven't tried carved turns yet. Speed is OK I am up to about 8 miles in two hours with no breaks. Could probably average 3.5 mph on longer trips with breaks. Wish it were a little faster. Cargo space seems ample, although I haven't taken it overnight yet, and I have fairly light hiking quality camping gear.
Plastic seems to have held up well. No hint of oil canning yet, but came with lots of scratches – I'm sure I've put on a few at entry/exit points. Bulkheads and covers don't leak. Seat, backband, and footpegs are very basic. Gets uncomfortable after about an hour or so and you have to shift around to get feeling back in your legs and feet.
Overall, I think it works well at what it is advertised to do. A good day touring, occasional overnighting kayak for the novice/intermediate paddler.
All in all - a great boat for the price.
I love this kayak for when I am going on a longer trip, as I find it is very comfortable and stable. It tracks well and moves quickly with little effort. I'm a large gal, but it's a roomy cockpit. It's harder to get in and out of than my larger Perception (America), but it's still not that difficult. My biggest challenge is that the shell gets bent up pretty easily when carrying on my car.
The long trip was 7 days in the Everglades, four days were spent in the ocean and 3 in the wilderness waterway. I had quite bad weather the first day, and do not have a skirt, but because of it maneuverability and design, I only filled it once during an 8 hr paddle. It stayed afloat and upright so I simply continued to paddle to an island where I got out, dumped it, sponged it, and continued. With a skirt I think I would have simply ignored the breaking waves and punched through rather than try and correct for each break. Oh yeah, my gear in the hatches stayed dry.
I carried 8+ gallons of freshwater, food, camping gear, and some fishing gear. I still had some room at the beginning for more gear. I only had one bag on the deck in front of me for the cameras, sunscreen and lunch. It tracked well even with the weight.
If I was in freshwater with a water filter, I think I could have carried enough food for multiple weeks.
Getting in or out from the elevated platforms (chickee’s) required some balance as I basically had to stand in the boat while holding the platform, but was not difficult.
My only con is the foot room. I wear shoe size 9.5 and thought it was a bit small. Stretching the legs was difficult in the boat. Otherwise I love this boat, it is easy for me to lift to the SUV top, rotomold plastic can take a beating. Handles weather great. It is still small enough that a strong stroke can effect quick maneuvering.
The first thing that struck me was the glossy finish. In my opinion, the solid colors look much better than the combo colors - much more glossy and resemble the duralites. I wanted yellow but had to settle for red. Now I match my wife's Pungo 120 and feel like a dork.
I liked the boat during my demo, but man-o-man, my new one really impressed me. I've been paddling in the Delaware lately and there's nothing like a gigantic oil tanker riding up your butt to make you appreciate a decent kayak, especially when your last few adventures were in a SeaEagle inflatable (don't get me started on that). It sits nice and low to the water, the seat is comfortable and it tracks fairly well. Although, when I first got in it, it was pulling to the right alot. I spent some time fidgeting with the seat and footpegs and think I got it right. The rudder makes a huge difference in the wakes and wind but has you compromising speed when in use. For that reason, I usually keep it up so my friends with the $2000 kayaks keep crying that mine is faster than theirs.
Overall, for what I picked this baby up for, I'm pretty satisfied. Now I can cruise for chicks along the Delaware in a decent whip...holla at ya' boy!
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